John Abraham, Ileana D'Cruz, director Anees Bazmee and others discuss Pagalpanti and the hard work behind comedy

Seema Sinha

Nov 21, 2019 11:59:26 IST

John Abraham is switching gears from cop-dramas and vigilante action films, and Pagalpanti (releases on 22 November) marks the actor’s return to comedy, four years after Welcome Back — also a Bazmee directorial. Pagalpanti features an ensemble cast which includes Anil Kapoor, Ileana D'Cruz, Arshad Warsi, Pulkit Samrat, Kriti Kharbanda, Urvashi Rautela, and Saurabh Shukla. And much like the Welcome franchise, the film appears to be a laugh-riot with all the characters in a funky look, and over-the-top situations, portraying their own eclecticism via funny quirks and one-off dialogues.

“I needed a break from the serious films I have done in the recent past — Madras Café, Parmanu, Batla House, Satyameve Jayate. I was craving for a comedy so that would make me as well as the audience happy. I haven’t done a film in a long time that has reached out to families, so for me, it was an opportunity and an excuse, and I am a big Anees Bazmee fan. We wanted the film to reach the audience from age six to 96. The film has no double meaning, no exposure, no bloodshed, and even the villain is very cute. But I can say this on record that Pagalpanti is a film that cannot be critiqued. Even our disclaimer is that ‘dimag mat lagana’,” says John, who, after Pagalpanti, will go back in the serious zone with Mumbai Saga and Satyamev Jayate 2.

 John Abraham, Ileana DCruz, director Anees Bazmee and others discuss Pagalpanti and the hard work behind comedy

Still from Pagalpanti trailer. Image from YouTube

For Bazmee, making an ensemble comedy remains a challenge, “Because you have to give an identity to all those eight to 10 characters. They all need to contribute,” says the director and quotes an anecdote laughing out loud, “When I was narrating the script of Aankhen to Govinda he was ecstatic as he felt that the whole film revolved only around him. Kader Khan wondered what the other actors were doing in the film. Raj Babbar had a double role and he felt the film was his.” “Secondly”, the director continues, “I don’t like to repeat what I had shown in my previous films and at the same time, I don’t want to deviate from my style so that my identity is not lost. Then, keeping something unsaid and conveying between the lines is also quite challenging,”

Bazmee further reveals that many of the characters that he writes have been modelled from real life. “The character that Anil played in Welcome, Mubarakan and now in Pagalpanti, I have many such friends but Anil gives these characters a completely new dimension. His contribution as an actor is tremendous. The style and physicality that he gives to his characters are superb,” he says.

John has been part of many comedies helmed by directors like Priyadarshan, Sajid Khan, and Bazmee, and he feels happy returning to the genre after a gap. “When I started shooting for Pagalpanti I had just got out of Batla House, so the first two days I found it very difficult. But as a genre I enjoy comedy. I have done it in Garam Masala, Housefull, Desi Boyz, to an extent in Dostana and Welcome Back. Though it is the toughest genre, I enjoy the process of doing a comedy. The first time when I watched Housefull 2, I wondered what I have done but today I enjoy watching those hilarious scenes. But sometimes I am not the best judge of comedy and I leave everything to Anees Bhai. He is one of the best writers the industry has. His comic timing in writing is great but such films cannot be critiqued. One has to just go and enjoy,” says John.

Further, commenting on the criticism and backlash from critics that comedies and its makers face, John says, “Comedy is not taken seriously at all by the industry. Housefull 4, whatever said and done, was just ripped apart and I don’t think it is fair. We need to take this genre seriously because this is the only genre that caters to the entire family. Many of the comedies made in the past never got any awards and now we are remaking those films — take, for example, Chupke Chupke. There is a larger audience for the remakes. People must appreciate the directors who get families into theatres and make them happy. As easy as it is to the audience’s senses, it is the toughest genre to do, to write, to direct and act in.”

Further, talking about his character in Pagalpanti, John says, “I am naturally a big built guy but I look scared in the film which looks quite funny. I am always trying to hide,” he laughs. “He is darpok (coward), he holds my skirt half the time in the film. It is so hilarious,” adds his co-star Ileana D’Cruz. “It was a lot crazier in this film, especially when you have that many actors. They come in with their own quirks and different styles of acting. It felt like a new film altogether but working with Aneesji is very easy. He is a great actor himself. He does scenes better than actors and its fun watching him act,” says Ileana who earlier worked with Bazmee on Mubarakan.

“In Pagalpanti, I am the most normal character but I end up getting into trouble and chaotic situations because of John’s character,” says Ileana, who will next be seen in The Bigg Bull, a crime-drama opposite Abhishek Bachchan. “I want to do a historical, a biopic, something extremely hard-hitting and something completely masala. I don’t have a career plan as such but there is no slowing down. I have also got offers for web series but I am again very picky because it is a different medium and it needs little more commitment,” says the actress.

And for both, John and Ileana, conviction is the key to be a success at comedy. “If you are not convinced to play that character audience will catch you,” says John. “Conviction goes with every character you play irrespective of whether it is comedy or tragedy but comic timing does help. I do know of some people who are not comic at all but somehow they act it out so well. Pagalpanti is not slapstick funny, it is situational funny where the characters may find themselves in a very serious situation but it is just very funny to look at,” says Ileana.

Arshad Warsi has been part of successful franchise films in comedy genre like Golmaal, Dhamaal and Munna Bhai and he feels that going further Pagalpanti has the potential of becoming a profitable franchise. “I know how smart Anees is at writing. The way he collects his team, his crew is commendable. People will like Pagalpanti because all the characters are stupid with one crazier than the other. You will love them. And people need to like the characters in series as characters take the series further which may happen with Pagalpanti. You can’t make a series out of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge but you can do it with Munna Bhai,” says Arshad, who, in the past has refused films like Grand Masti and Great Grand Masti because of his discomfort towards adult comedies. “I also refuse dark, grim and depressing films. But I like bizarre and outrageous stuff, something that I am doing for Amazon. I won’t do anything that doesn’t entertain people,” says Arshad.

Fresh from the success of Housefull 4, Kriti Kharbanda says, “I am very scared when I approach a comedy. I used to feel I will survive comedies because I am a very funny girl in real life. I crack the best PJs in the world and I can entertain people. But when you have to do it in front of the camera it gets really difficult because everybody’s comic sense is different. After doing Housefull I thought Pagalpanti would be a cake-walk and I will have to just take it forward but the comedies of both the films were so different. It was like comparing Housefull and Welcome. My character Jahnavi is the hardest that I have ever played, including in the South, because this character can be very irritating and caricaturish. We had to behave like mad and not look like one and I had to say dialogues with a lot of conviction.”

After Fukrey, what Pulkit Samrat calls a slice-of-life comedy, Pagalpanti was very different. “You just go headless and apply no logic. But there is still a story-telling that engages you and the characters are very interesting. I had lot of fun play Chandu. Here, we are all mad trying to figure out what to do in a certain situation which has been created by us only, whereas in Fukrey situations are taking care of everything,” says Pulkit.

After directing top-grossing comedies like No Entry (2005), Welcome (2007), Singh Is Kinng (2008), Ready (2011) and Welcome Back (2015), and also moderately successful romantic thriller Deewangee (2002), Bazmee is confident that his new release will get a warm welcome like his previous “old-style, larger-than-life films” got. “If people are watching Welcome and No Entry even after 12 to 15 years from its release then it is confirmed that these films will never look old. Some of the so-called modern films just disappear but people have watched these comedies 15 to 20 times,” he says.

“Though I always wish that not just the audience but even the critics love my films and I always make an effort at it but when I sit down to write my script I forget the critics. Then I only think about the vast audience from big towns in the west to small towns in UP, Punjab because I want everyone to watch my film. This is a big responsibility you have taken and you have to fulfill that. I finally succumb to my audience’s taste,” concludes Bazmee.

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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2019 11:59:26 IST